Nazareth Alumni – Jennifer Cutri

Jennifer Cutri

Did you know that the average person changes their career 12 times in their lifetime? This fact is based on the latest statistics and career modelling data as of May 2021. I raise this point because since completing my Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) at Nazareth College in 2006, I have already experienced three different career paths.

When I was a student at Nazareth, my favourite subjects were mathematics, science, and Japanese. At that point in time, I selected these subjects for my VCE studies as I imagined that I would have a career as an engineer living in Japan. As much as I tried my best for the VCE, I did not get a high enough ATAR; back in the day, it was ENTER, for my dream course of studying a Bachelor of Engineering. I was extremely disappointed in myself and felt the world was over. After a week, I had to eventually revise my university preferences. I remember feeling devastated that I had to remove all my engineering preferences and for a moment I was staring at a blank screen thinking, “what now?”.

As I scanned through the hardcopy VTAC book, all I could think was “ok, I have finished school this is where I need to get a job”. But, what job could I do? I was fortunate enough to have achieved a result with the baseline English and General Mathematics pre-requisites that opened up a range of courses. However, courses I never considered. I noticed that I actually met the requirements to study teaching. I paused for a moment and suddenly remembered a presentation by the careers counsellor at the time, Mr Brewster, who mentioned that “there is a cry for teachers” and began to think about teaching. So, there I was with an ENTER, pre-requisites and a career path with a guarantee for future employment. The logical thing was to select a teaching course and hope for an acceptance letter within a month’s time.

In January 2007, I felt so relieved that I was offered my second choice – a double degree in Science/Education at Deakin University. My first year of post-secondary school was enjoyable and a little overwhelming with all the assignments and exams. However, being independent and taking charge of my learning was the best feeling. I loved all the lab work; however, my career as a future secondary teacher was soon to take an unexpected turn. One of our education theory units was combined with the primary preservice teachers. As I developed new friendships within my degree, especially with the primary cohort, I realised I preferred the primary-based units and transferred into the primary stream.

Due to administrative complications and after a while of emailing around and course applications, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at The University of Melbourne. Honestly, it was not my preferred path, but I had a plan, achieve high enough results and transfer into the Bachelor of Primary Education stream. During my study of Early Childhood Education, I was taken aback by how in-depth the profession was and the amount of theoretical and professional knowledge required. I certainly learnt a fair amount in that year, and this knowledge definitely helped me with my transition into the Bachelor of Education.

Throughout my education degrees, I realised that many of the skills required for post-secondary education were developed during my time at Nazareth. The ability to comprehend and synthesise the copious amount of reading, the mathematical and scientific fundamentals, and manage my time are essential skills to succeed in future studies. After completing, what I thought would be the end of my studies, I worked as a Primary School teacher in three different schools. One of the schools I worked in had many English as Additional Language (EAL) students. Furthermore, because I was teaching Foundation/Prep the following year, where many of the children starting school would not communicate in English, I was selected with two other teachers to study an additional qualification to support EAL learners.

The course was part of a unit within a Masters of Education at The University of Melbourne. Therefore, I had the choice to either study for the entire Master’s degree or complete the course and graduate with the single qualification. After a long day of teaching, I would travel to the city and attend evening lectures two nights a week and every Saturday for six months. During my study, I realised I actually enjoyed the research aspect and decided to continue the Masters of Education. It was an intense two years of full-time work and part-time Masters study; however, this led to my next career change. During the Master’s course, I noticed an elective unit to support international teaching and learning. I initially believed this unit was to help international students, and this would benefit my teaching of EAL learners and students from cross-cultural backgrounds. When I attended my first class, it was actually an international school practicum where I had to teach in an international school and present my Master’s thesis on this experience. Based on the school selection: India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Thailand, I remembered my experience of learning Japanese (and about the culture too) at Nazareth and felt Hong Kong was the best choice to complete my international placement. While in Hong Kong, this experience changed my perception of teaching and the role of Asia in education. My Japanese studies at Nazareth enabled my cross-cultural transition and contributed to a positive experience.

 After submitting my Master’s thesis on the cross-cultural benefits of teaching and learning in an international school, I realised that I discovered a passion for international education and research. At this moment, I took a leap of faith by applying for Ph.D study at Monash University and resigning from my teaching position once I was accepted into the degree. Today, I am a Ph.D student in Education and Sociology writing a thesis on international teacher and student cross-cultural experiences. My doctoral studies journey has opened the door to a career in university research and teaching. Not only do I currently lecture in the Faculty of Education for undergraduate and post-graduate preservice teacher units, but I also have undertaken Research Assistant duties. Through my teaching and research duties, I have had the opportunity to publish my work and present at national and international conferences. While my doctoral research is based on the experience of students and teachers in international schools, I have also contributed to a range of research projects at Monash University involving the role of imposter syndrome in academic identity, Asian education policy and Australian-Asian educational relations, the impact of technology for supporting migrant transition into Australian society, and the Online Language Education Teaching (OLET) project in partnership with the Chinese organisation – AI Learning.

My contribution to the education field is also voluntary. Since 2014, I have been involved as a Section Co-ordinator for the Science Talent Search (STS) along with Ms Sheba Gurm. I would say that my participation in the STS when I was a student at Nazareth engaged my interest in the competition, and due to this, I am now serving on the committee. My second fondest memory of my time at Nazareth was being selected by Mr Michael Ross to attend the 2003 Writers Festival in the city when I was in Year 9. It was an exciting day to hear authors speak and present their books. I was absolutely fascinated by the vast amount of literature and writing tips shared by professional authors. Due to this experience, I became interested in literature and began to read for pleasure rather than academic purposes. This experience also influenced my decision to study VCE Literature which significantly enhanced my writing capability, which I can say in the academic field is crucial.

Reflecting back on my journey since completing my final VCE exam, which was Texts and Traditions, back in December 2006 and walking home thinking, “ok, now what do I do?”, I can attribute my success to my Nazareth experience. Not only are the academic experiences, but the life lessons along the way that help you to become resilient through challenging times. Looking back on my experience, even though I experienced a range of ups and downs, and as much as I am tempted to wish specific experiences did not happen- such as failing Year 8 Maths and receiving detentions, I believe that every life experience is important.

The future is unknown where every day we learn a new lesson, and we learn something new about ourselves. To gloss over the negative, or what we perceive is negative, is to deny ourselves an opportunity to learn from mistakes and build resilience. For anyone considering a career in education, I strongly recommend attending the university Open Days and speaking to current students and staff about the course. Teaching is a rewarding profession where you provide students with an opportunity to their future by opening up the door to endless possibilities. I always tell my preservice teachers that we are more than a final grade, as we are preparing our students to thrive and work in a world where careers do not exist yet.

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